The Tragedy of Self-Righteousness – Matthew 7:21-23 / Luke 6:46

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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
November 9, 2014

The Tragedy of Self-Righteousness
Matthew 7:21-23 / Luke 6:46

Introduction – Review

I mentioned last week that the greatest danger facing the Christian is not economics, societal decline, government intrusion or even physical persecution, for all these things can only affect you outwardly. Personal finances can change, but that only raises or lowers your standard of living. The decline of social morality may thrust more temptations in front of you and make it more difficult to live a holy life, but it cannot change who you really are. The political climate is often in flux, but that only increases or decreases the intrusion of government into the daily business of life. Direct persecution can cause much suffering and grief, but even that cannot change your eternal destination. Of much greater danger than any of these are those things that can affect you internally.

In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus warned about the danger of false prophets that lead so many astray onto the broad path leading to eternal destruction. Their lies and deceptions deceive people into believing the teachings of false religions or vain philosophies or cults or heresy. They affect people internally and direct them to an eternal destiny of damnation. Many false teachers are easily recognized if even a little time is spent in comparing what they teach to the Scriptures. They have a different Jesus than He who is presented in the Gospels as both fully God and fully man. They also rely on some source of authority they believe to be superior to the Scriptures. It is not hard to identify them as enemies of the flock. However, in this passage, Jesus gives specific warning about false teachers that are more deceptive than these.

Jesus states in verse 15 that they “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” They look like friends of the flock instead of the wolves they really are. They come disguised by wearing sheep’s clothing, the garments of the shepherd. They appear as those who come to feed and lead the flock, but instead they feed off the flock and exploit it for their own gain (2 Peter 2:1). They are more dangerous because they are more deceptive. They look like and claim to be shepherds, but in reality they are wolves.

With the warning, Jesus also gave instructions in verses 16-20 on how to recognize these false prophets. “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” Examine their fruits, but what fruits?

You must keep in mind that throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been presenting the nature of true righteousness as compared with the self righteousness seen in the Scribes and Pharisees of that time. The fruit Jesus is talking about is the fruit of righteousness as compared to the fruit of self righteousness.

Jesus presented the characteristics that would be manifested in the lives of those who are truly righteous when He gave the Beatitudes. It is the righteous and only the righteous that can display all of these character qualities. The self righteous are not marked by these qualities. The righteous also approach the commandments of God with the desire to obey them from the heart. They keep both the letter and the spirit of God’s laws. The self-righteous approach God’s commands like defense attorneys looking for the loopholes. The truly righteous do all their religious activities to gain a closer relationship with God and to give Him glory. The self righteous are more concerned that other people think them pious. What God really thinks of them is of little importance. No wonder Jesus said to the Pharisees in Luke 16:15, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.” The hypocrisy of self righteousness is seen in its condemnation of others because they also do not do what God commands, yet when they see a brother in sin, they stand aloof in pride and condemn. When the righteous sees a brother stumble in sin, they examine themselves first, then go in humility and speaking the truth in love they help bear the burden of that sin. The righteous are compassionate and get involved to help. The self righteous are without such mercy.

If a person does not bear the fruit of the righteous, it does not matter what they look like, what they sound like, what they say they believe or who they associate with. Jesus’ warning is that if their fruit is bad, then so are they. They are false prophets. They are not leading you through the narrow gate onto the narrow path that leads to life. They are standing at the wide gate inviting you to join them on the broad path leading to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). That is the reason for Jesus’ strong warning here. The immediate context begins in verses 13-14 with the two gates, two paths and two very different final destinations. It is either eternal life or eternal destruction.

There are relatively few people that find the small gate and the narrow way that leads to life because few overcome the obstacles that keep people from finding it. The specific obstacle that Jesus warns about here are the false teachers that would deceive you into believing the wide gate is the small gate, that the broad path is the narrow path, and that the light ahead is heaven, when in fact it is the flames of hell. So take heed, beware, watch out for false prophets who disguise their lies and present them as truth. You will know them by their fruits. If they do not bear the fruits of righteousness, then turn away and flee!

Now someone might object at this point because no one demonstrates righteousness at every point in their life. How then can the true shepherds and the false shepherds be differentiated since both dress alike and both have flaws in their clothing? Again the answer goes back to the nature of righteousness. The regenerate person will be marked by the characteristics of the Beatitudes. They will be poor in spirit – humble. They will mourn over their sin. It troubles them that they have offended God and they continue to hunger and thirst after righteousness. The self righteous, if they confess their sin at all, do so without such mourning. They are not troubled by their offense of God, because God is not their greatest concern. Their concern is position and prestige among their peers and the people.

It is this next section of this passage that is to me the most frightening text in all of Scripture, and there are many scary things in Scripture. The book of Revelation is full of shocking and terrifying things. Strange creatures, horrible things happening on the earth, apostasy, war, famine, death, martyrdom, and terrors all occur in just the first few chapters. In the last few chapters there is Anti-Christ, the Beast, Armageddon and the final judgment. Revelation is a very frightening book, yet I do not find it nearly as scary as the utter deception of self righteousness and the result of that deception as recorded here in Matthew 7:21-23.

The Deception of Self Righteousness – Matthew 7:21-23

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”

Can you even begin to contemplate the horror that these people will suffer when they hear these words? These are people that have lived their lives thinking that they were truly serving the Lord, doing many things in His name, and then find out at the end that He rejects them as never knowing them and sends them away to eternal judgment. It is not the just the horror of the thought that this could happen to such sincere people that is terrifying. It is the fact that there could be people here today that may hear these words applied to them. I must take the warning seriously and carefully examine myself to make sure that Jesus is not talking about me and so must you.

Sin is deceitful itself, but self righteousness is the most deceptive sin of all because it gives you the illusion that you are doing what is right and true and good before God, yet the whole time you are an abomination to Him. This was the case with the scribes and Pharisees that were so often in conflict with Jesus. By most standards they were very good people. They were kind to other Israelites. They taught their children about God and the Law of Moses. They were often generous to the poor. They followed all of the moral rules of their society, and they were zealous for God. Consider the Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus, later named Paul the Apostle. He says of himself that he persecuted the church out of his zeal for God and that he was blameless according to the righteousness found in the Law according to the Pharisees (Philippians 3:6). He was sincere and zealous in his pursuit of what he thought was pleasing to God, yet he was wrong – dead wrong, and except for God’s wonderful mercy and saving grace, he would have died as sinful Saul rather than holy Paul, the servant of God made righteous by Jesus Christ.

The Premise: Jesus lays down the premise in verse 21 and then explains it in verses 22-23. Jesus states, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. There is more to entering the kingdom of heaven than just what is professed by the lips. There has to be an accompanying direction of life. You must do the will of the Father. Some might object that this sounds like a works-based salvation. It is not, and we will discuss that in detail in a moment, but first notice their good theology.

They say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord.” The word “lord” could be used as a term of respect equivalent to our English term, “Sir,” or in the sense of “master,” but the double usage suggests something much stronger. Add to this their claim to have prophesied, cast out demons and performed miracles in the name of Jesus and it demonstrates they were using Lord in the sense of the common, Jewish substitute title for Jehovah or Yahweh – the name of God. The name of God was considered too holy for human lips to utter, so the practice developed that when they encountered His name, they would say the word for Lord instead. These people understood and acknowledged that Jesus is God and master. These are people that would have made a profession of faith in Christ. They had a good theology, in fact better than many modern evangelists who do not think you can be saved without yielding to Jesus’ lordship. These people acknowledge Jesus as the Lord God and master, but Jesus says that “not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Some will, but not everyone. In fact, Jesus begins the illustration in verse 22 with the adjective “many.” This will be a common condition instead of a rare one.

Jesus states that “many will say to Me on that day.” What day? The phrase, “that day,” is frequently used in reference to the era of divine judgment known throughout Scripture as the day of the Lord (Isaiah 2:12; Joel 2:1; Malachi 4:5; 1 Thessalonians. 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10, etc.). In Matthew’s other usage of the phrase in 24:36, it is connection with His promised second coming which will bring judgment. The picture Jesus presents here is of these people standing before the Lord and giving an account of themselves to Him. It is the day of judgment.

The Defense: What defense do they give as they stand before God to be judged? “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” These are the cries of people who are in shock over where they find themselves. They are astonished to be standing before the Lord in judgment. They try to justify themselves in two ways. First by claiming the things they did were in the name of the Lord. “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” Second, by the amazing things they had done – prophesy, cast out demons and perform miracles. In short, they are arguing that the Lord should accept them into heaven because they had done so many marvelous things in His name.

Some have suggested that their claims are false. I believe their claims are legitimate for the Lord gives no rebuke for lying in His presence. In addition, there are plenty of examples of unregenerate people doing these very things. In Philippians 1:15-17 Paul speaks of those that were “preaching Christ even from envy and strife” and “out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” Paul rejoiced that Christ was proclaimed regardless of the motives, but these people would not rejoice when they stood before the Lord because He weighs the motives and judges accordingly (Proverbs 16:2; 1 Corinthians 4:5).

In Acts 19:13-17 we find the seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who made their living as exorcists. These seven men are trying to cast the demons out of man saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” The evil spirit answered saying, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” The demon then caused the man to leap on them and over power them so that they fled the house naked. It is dangerous business to get involved with demons when you do not know the Lord, but the fact that they had been doing this from place to place indicates that they previously had some success in casting out demons.

Throughout the Scriptures, from the magicians of Egypt during the time of Moses to the Beast who will perform wonders during the tribulation, we find false prophets who are able to do miracles. Recall from our examination of Deuteronomy 13 last week that Moses warned that there would be those who would come performing supernatural wonders as a test “to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Would a miracle worker entice you away from following the true and living God?

The Judgment: In Matthew 7:22 the people standing before the Lord are trying to justify themselves by of all the wonderful things they did in the name of the Lord, yet the sad truth is that they were completely self deceived. Jesus said you would know false prophets by their fruit. These people did marvelous things in the name of the Lord, but their lives and their words show they loved and trusted themselves and not God. If their trust had been in God, then their appeal to Him would have been based on what Jesus had done for them. Instead, their appeal is based on what they thought they had done for God. It does not matter how good or how zealous for God you are, your righteousness before Him is as a filthy rag (Isaiah 64:6). You come to God based on the righteousness of Christ, or not at all. Jesus says to them in verse 23, “I never knew you.” They did not know Jesus, and Jesus did not know them. Jesus knew about them, and they knew about Jesus, but there was no intimacy of relationship which is indicated by the particular word used here for “know” (ginw;skw / ginosko). It does not matter how much head knowledge you have about God, if you are not adopted into His kingdom as one of His children, then you are not going to enter because Heaven is not your home. Jesus commands them, “Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”

They claimed that they did all sorts of things in Jesus’ name, but they did not love Him. Those who love Jesus obey Him. Jesus made this clear in John 14:21, “He who has my commandments and obeys them, he it is that loves Me.” Jesus adds in verses 23 & 24, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word . . . He who does not love Me does not keep My words.” Jesus declares that these people were those who practiced iniquity – lawlessness. Remember the context here is still self righteousness. These were not people who flagrantly broke the social moral code. They would be considered good citizens and fine church members. But Jesus says they practiced lawlessness. The word here is literally, “without law,” referring to the law of God. They had replaced the law of God with their own regulations and traditions (Matthew 15:3-6). That is why self righteousness is so dangerous. You believe you are doing what God wants, but His commandments have been twisted. That is what we have seen throughout the Sermon on the Mount.

We might feel more at ease if Jesus was just talking about people that were nonchalant or casual in their approach to Himself. It makes sense that people on the fringes of the church could be self deceived in professing something without knowing the reality of it. But the people that Jesus describes in verses 22- 23 are anything but casual in their approach to their religion. That should make everyone take warning, because if this could be the situation for those that are serious about serving the Lord, then how much more so for those that are not serious about walking with God.

Assurance of Salvation

Jesus warns that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,” and the self righteous will not enter. Let me add that no one who lives according the flesh will enter the kingdom. Paul says in Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities. strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” If those things are still the mark of your life, then do not fool yourself, you are on the broad path to destruction, not the narrow path to life.

Someone might say that I sound like I am against the security of the believer – the assurance of salvation. It sounds that way only because I am against a false assurance of salvation. If you think that you are a Christian because you attend church services, pay tithes, made a public profession of faith, prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, raised your hand, were baptized, or any other religious activity, or because a pastor or evangelist told you that you were now a Christian, then you had better think again. You need to do what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” Faith in what you have done or faith in faith itself cannot save you. You have a false assurance of salvation. That is part of the deceitfulness of self righteousness.

There are many reasons that people have for thinking they are going to heaven when they are not. Some think it is because of family heritage. That was common among the Jews and still occurs a lot in families with a Christian heritage, but every individual stands alone before God. Secondhand faith cannot save you from sin. As Ezekiel 18:4 warns, “The soul who sins will die.” That is individual. Others think they are saved because they read the Bible and know a lot of theology, but that does not save. In John 5:39-40 Jesus warned the Jews that were persecuting Him, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” Still others think that they will go to heaven because of the religious rituals they have kept and good things they have done, but Isaiah 64:6 puts it bluntly that all our righteous deeds are as a filthy garment before our holy Creator.

What then is the basis of salvation? Paul put it this way in Titus 3:5–7, 5 “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Paul stated it this way in Ephesians 2:8-9, 8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” You are not saved from your sin and given an assurance of eternal life in heaven unless it is based on God graciously regenerating you through the power of the Holy spirit by His gift of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His atonement.

The assurance of salvation is founded on the promises of God and the work of the Holy Spirit which result in a changed life. Do you believe and trust what God has said? Romans 8:16 tells us that the “Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” Do you know God personally as one of His children? Does Jesus know you? As already mentioned, this is not just intellectual knowledge about, but the knowledge of relationship which will change the way you live. The apostle John explained it this way in 1 John 2:3-6, “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him; the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” This is not a demand for perfection, but for direction. 1 John 1 makes it clear that Christians do sin, but they are not characterized by it, and when they do, they confess it.

Again, in our text for this morning Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” Jesus does not say here that doing God’s will earns you salvation, but He does say that a claim to know Him as “Lord, Lord” will be evidenced by living according to God’s will. That is the fruit of righteousness that develops in the life of a believer.


The greatest danger to conservative evangelical Christians is not the flagrant outward sins that are so common in the society around us, but rather the sin of self righteousness which is so deceptive as to lead professing Christians into living a lie while believing it to be true. Self righteousness gives the illusion of godliness, but not the real thing.

Some preachers emphasize the doctrine of the security of the believer so much that they give false assurance of salvation. Some even say that we should never question our salvation because that would be doubting God. That is nonsense and contrary to Scripture’s clear commandment to examine ourselves to see if we be in the faith. That is my call to you today. Examine yourselves and see what your faith is in. Are you trusting Christ and His promises or something else? Examine your life and see for whom you are living. Are you seeking God’s will or your own? I would much rather have you be unsure of your salvation and striving to work it out in fear and trembling (Philippians 3:12) than blindly going your own way only to hear the Lord say to you in judgment, “I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” There could not be a greater tragedy.

Do not be deceived by someone’s claim to be godly or even by any wondrous works they may do. The real test of a genuine Christian is the fruit of righteousness growing in their life. Their character will be increasingly marked by the qualities found in the Beatitudes. Those who are disobedient to God and those that make up their own standards of righteousness to replace those of God are false. Beware of such false prophets, take care to watch for such false professions, and be diligent to make sure that you are not among them.

An engraving on a cathedral in Lubeck, Germany reflects our Lord’s teaching. “Thus speaketh Christ our Lord to us, You call Me master and obey Me not, you call Me light and see Me not, you call Me the way and walk Me not, you call Me life and live Me not, you call me wise and follow Me not, you call Me fair and love me not, you call Me rich and ask me not, you call me eternal and seek Me not, if I condemn thee, blame Me not.”

Do you know Jesus Christ? Does He know you? What will He say when you stand before Him? Will He say, as He does in Matthew 25:34, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” or will it be Matthew 25:41, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Sermon Notes: The Tragedy of Self-Righteousness Matthew 7:21-23 / Luke 6:46

Introduction – Review – Matthew 7:13-20

False teachers pose the greatest _______________because they affect internal beliefs and eternal destination

Jesus warned about false prophets that come disguised in the clothing of a _________________

They are recognized by their __________- righteousness, unrighteousness or self-righteousness?

False prophets _____________and direct people to the wide gate and wide way that leads to destruction

The righteous will be marked by the characteristics of the ________________- humble, mourn over sin, etc.

The Deception of Self Righteousness – Matthew 7:21-23

The greatest ________: to believe you are following Jesus and find out in the end that He does not know you

Self righteousness is the most _______________of all sins

Saul the Pharisee was zealous for God – but he was actually a ______________________persecutor of Jesus

The Premise – Matthew 7:21- you must do the Father’s ________to enter heaven, not just call Jesus, “Lord

Calling Jesus “Lord” in this context is a recognition that He is __________ and master

That day” refers to the day of ________- Isa. 2:12; Joel 2:1; Mal. 4:5; Matt. 24:36; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10

The Defense – Matthew 7:22 – We have done many marvelous things in ______________________

Philippians 1:15-17 – people who proclaimed Christ with wrong __________________

Acts 19:13-17 – the seven sons of Sceva who were _________________- those who cast out demons

From the Egyptian magicians (Exodus) to the Beast (Revelation) there are false prophets who do _________

The Judgment – Matthew 7:22

They were self-righteous making their appeal based in their own ____________, not in trust of God’s grace

They did not __________(ginw;skw / ginosko) Jesus and Jesus did not know them

They were commanded to “______________from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”

They did not love Jesus, or they would have _______________Him – John 14:21-24

They had replaced the law of God with their own regulations and __________________(Matthew 15:3-6)

If this can happen to those who are __________about religion, how much more so about those who are not?

Assurance of Salvation

No one who lives according the flesh will ___________the kingdom – Galatians 5:19-21

Don’t be deceived by a false assurance – ______________the genuineness of your faith – 2 Corinthians 13:5

Family _______________does not save – both salvation and condemnation are individual

Jesus saves, not intellectual _______________of the Bible and theology – John 5:39-40

Man’s religious _______________and good works are filthy before our Holy Creator – Isaiah 64:6

Salvation is based in God’s ______________________________- Titus 3:5-7; Ephesians 2:8-9

Assurance is based on the promises of God and work of the __________________resulting in a changed life

Romans 8:16 – the inner ___________________of the Holy Spirit

___________________ Jesus results in a changed life – 1 John 2:3-6

Christians do sin, but when they do, they ________________ it – 1 John 1

Self righteousness gives the ________________ of godliness, but not the real thing

Are you trusting __________________ and His promises or something else?

What will Jesus ___________ when you stand before Him – Matthew 25:34 or 41?

Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the terms “righteousness” and “self–righteousness” are used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about the difference between them.

Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the greatest danger man faces? How can you identify a false prophet/teacher? Explain. How can you know a true prophet/teacher? Explain. What is so frightening about Matthew 7:21-23? Why is self-righteousness the most deceptive sin? Is a profession of faith enough to get you to heaven? Why or why not? Is a good theology enough? Were the people spoken about in verses 21-23 sincere in their beliefs? Did they actually do the things they claimed in verse 22? Can ungodly people do prophesy, cast out demons or do miracles? Explain. What do their claims in verse 22 reveal about their beliefs / trust of God? What is the true proof that a person loves Jesus? What did Jesus mean that these people practiced lawlessness? What are some of the reasons that people have a false belief they will go to heaven? What is the basis for a true assurance of salvation? Since a Christian is not sinless, how can he know if he is saved? Have you examined yourself to make sure you are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5)? Why should God let you into heaven? How can you improve your discernment to recognize false teachers?

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